The technology to digitalize the laboratory is out there,but many labs haven’t truly made the jump from legacy processes to automated, integrated solutions. In this article, we explore:

  • What is a digital lab?
  • Digital lab benefits
  • Barriers to the digital lab transition
  • Recommendations for the digital lab

What is a digital lab?

A digital lab relies on processes and workflows that are almost entirely digital — lab instruments and information systems are integrated, automated, and accessible in a way that is not possible without using targeted technology solutions. Upgrading in this way is especially essential for ensuring data integrity.

The idea of the digital lab is critical as many laboratories hold onto the legacy approach of manually recording data and keeping paper records. Other labs have transitioned away from paper but leave their data inaccessible and open to error by failing to overhaul old workflows,employ new automations, and integrate systems. All of these steps are required to create a truly digital lab that comes as close to perfect data accuracy as possible with current technology.

The benefits: Why should you convert to a digital lab?

Transitioning to a digital lab offers many benefits:

You’ll be able to scale when you need to

Maintaining everything in paper records or in disorganized data silos and data lakes can make scaling your projects impossible. As your team and breadth of research grows, you need quick access to well-organized information, easily accessible to everyone involved.

It’s more efficient

Automation helps analysts spend less time manually entering data upfront and an integrated, accessible ecosystem makes it faster and easier to access that data later when needed — no more data silos that make it hard to continue research, reproduce results, or result in duplicated work.

You’ll get better data

Every lab needs to take data integrity seriously, and digital labs make maintaining this integrity much easier:

  • Know exactly where, when, and who your data came from: In a digital lab, attribution data can be automatically captured and preserved for easy access later.
  • Remove the risks of manual data entry: Automated entry records data accurately and in-the-moment. No need to worry about human error recording inaccurate information, creating multiple copies of the same data, or losing the original results.
  • Make collaboration possible: Integration systems ensure data is accessible to all those who need to see it, wherever they need to access it.

Lower maintenance costs

The upkeep cost of a digital lab, despite the technology involved, is typically less than that of maintaining organized and effective physical records or unoptimized digital data. Losing time and spending valuable resources trying to make sense of data that could be stored and organized automatically is costly, as is trying to maintain physical storage space for paper records.

More possibilities for AI

AI and machine learning drive great results in the lab when they have enough data for training. In order to make effective use of these models for your application, you need to have accurate, accessible data. Digital labs make this step easy, while a more manual process may hinder your ability to take advantage of the AI boom.

Barriers to the digital lab transition

Though clearly beneficial to the lab, digital transformation efforts often encounter obstacles. Our own research and experience has shown us three barriers that are particularly widespread:

  • Lack of resources: Many labs express that they lack the people and finances to execute a digitalization plan.
  • Formatting difficulties: Nearly every lab uses instruments from an array of different providers, and getting these different data formats to integrate can be tricky.
  • Change management: Digital transformation in the lab requires a total overhaul of processes and workflows. It can be difficult to get everyone on board for such a big change and in agreement on the right path forward.

Some other common barriers are lack of internal expertise to handle data management and integration and concerns about the effort involved in preserving legacy data and integrating it into a new system.

Regardless of the barriers you face, converting to a digital lab is unavoidable if you want to perform effective research.. Luckily, many of the obstacles labs face can be overcome by following the right process.

Our recommendations: How to transition to a digital lab

Begin by aligning your organization

Digital transformation in the lab relies on technology, but even more important to the transition process is the reinvention of your business. As we’ve said, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for labs when it’s time to digitalize is getting all stakeholders to adopt and support the major changes necessary to creating a true digital lab. Begin with business goals first, then position technology as the way to enable success, and ensure you’re supporting your team with enough training and the opportunity to ask questions.

Try to identify one major SMART goal to hit. For example, shortening instrument run to data analysis time by X%, reducing error rate by Y%, or, as a broader goal, cutting total lab turnaround times (TAT) by Z%. Setting concrete (and realistic) metrics like this will improve the odds of success as your team works to improve lab efficiency and performance. It may help to build up to a broad goal like reducing TAT by building on specific objectives like cutting run time and error rate, as mentioned above.

Assess where your resources pose problems

Many lab analysts and managers cite lack of resources as a major barrier to digitalization, whether that be financing the project or finding time to delegate employees to developing and executing a digital strategy.

Both of these issues can be addressed with the right solution. A well-supported platform will include services to help you manage your data strategy and be able to return on your investment quickly. With Scitara DLX, we provide comprehensive planning, deployment, and validation support to help you cover your resource gaps, and you’ll see ROI as a result of savings on manual effort, improvements to accuracy, and faster test cycles within a year.

Find a solution that addresses your technical challenges

Connecting instruments and systems with disparate formatting — another of the most common roadblocks to digitalization — looks like a daunting, time-consuming, effort-intensive task, but there are integration platforms like Scitara DLX that jump this hurdle by converting data into a common format for easy transfer across your instruments and informatics systems.

There are plenty of solutions that don’t offer this capability, so ensure you’re picking one that does if harmonizing data formatting is something you need in your lab. While popular and useful in the right contexts, LIMS and ELN solutions do not typically provide the robust integration features needed to help you marry your entire lab effectively. For that, we recommend an iPaaS like DLX.

Consider a cloud-based solution

Cloud-based solutions offer better scalability and flexibility, easier upkeep, and reduced costs thanks to the hosting services offered by the provider. The price of entry to better data integration and integrity is much higher if you need to build your own infrastructure internally. Cloud-based platforms provide easy integration for a lower investment.

Leverage AI and Machine Learning

Once you’ve established your goals and picked the right solution to support your needs, you should have the tools you need to integrate and automate critical tasks in your daily workflows. As you begin gathering more and better quality data, you’ll open the door to better insights from AI and machine learning. These can be invaluable for speeding up your ability to identify trends and make conclusions based on your data. A fully digital lab will take advantage of these tools along with integration and automation.

Assess solutions for your digital transformation

Digitalizing your lab is hardly optional these days, but you do have options for how you enable this transformation. Scitara’s DLX platform is an iPaaS designed for the lab and equipped to handle your most challenging infrastructure needs. Assess DLX’s tech for yourself as you consider solutions for your digital lab.